Experimental Station hosts OPC community meeting

Ray Lodato spoke while Jamie Kalven listened during a community meeting hosted by Jamie Kalven about the Obama Presidential Center and the new golf course that will be installed in Jackson Park and South Shore Park. The meeting took place Tuesday evening, July 25, at the Experimental Station, 6100 S. Blackstone Ave. – Spencer Bibbs

Staff Writer

Over the last month, numerous community conversations have been held in the wake of the new developments that are headed to the south side through the future Barack Obama Presidential Center (OPC) and upgrades to the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses.

Jamie Kalven, an award winning journalist and human rights activist, moderated the forum on Tuesday, July 25, at the Experimental Station, 6100 S. Blackstone Ave.

Kalven said the goal of the conversation was to identify the range of issues that needed to be addressed regarding the OPC and golf course updates.

“Our hope is that we can identify a range of issues, identify questions that people want answers to,” Kalven said. “The aim is for the community to set the agenda.”

Parking, road closures, crime, open green space, a community benefits agreement (CBA) and accessibility were just some of the areas that were brought up by members of the audience.

One of the biggest areas of contention at past meetings have been road closures planned for the OPC that will be located near 60th Street and Stony Island Avenue.

Tuesday’s meeting was no different than the rest in that regard.

The consensus from residents at past meetings is that the closing of Cornell Drive, a six-lane road that runs through Jackson Park from 57th Street south to 67th Street, would not benefit drivers because of existing traffic patterns.

The Obama Foundation, according to its economic impact assessment estimated that the OPC will attract 625,000-760,000 visitors on a yearly basis.

Roadway closures for both projects in the park include Midway Plaisance (eastbound) between Stony Island Avenue, and Cornell Drive, Cornell Drive from 59th Street to Hayes Drive, Marquette Drive from Stony Island Avenue to Richards Drive, and northbound from Cornell Avenue from 67th to 65th streets.

The concept design for the golf course calls for two underpasses under South Jeffrey Boulevard and at South Shore Drive.

The second underpass at South Shore, according to representatives from the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance would benefit golfers and the community at large who use the intersection to access the lakefront.

CDOT hopes to counter the closures by improving Lake Shore Drive, Hayes Drive, and intersections to accommodate diverted traffic.

Rebekah Scheinfeld commissioner of CDOT said last month “We are early in the process. At this point based on our review, we are confident that we can minimize travel time impacts and our goal continues to be to match current travel times or better.”

Ray Lodato, a resident of Hyde Park, spoke about protecting community assets like the park.

“The economic forecast from the center is too rosy,” Lodato said. “If we have the groundbreaking and construction workers show up and they look mostly like me we don’t get the park. If there are 2500 jobs as a result of the Presidential Center and there are a lot fewer, then we don’t get the park back. We have to think about what it is that we’re giving up.”

Lodato in his remarks also alluded to a CBA.

Naomi Davis of the Bronzeville Regional Committee (BRC) discussed the principles outlined by the Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition.

The CBA that would require jobs to be set-aside for people in the community, protect affordable housing and homeowners, support and create black-owned businesses, and strengthen neighborhood schools.

BRC is working in conjunction with Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP) the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) and the University of Chicago student-led Prayer and Action Collective (PAC).

Jamie Clare Flaherty, director of strategic initiatives for the Obama Foundation, said previously at a community conversation the foundation has an “open door policy.”

“We have been in conversation with people who [have been] interested in signing a CBA for as long as the idea has been floating,” Flaherty said. “The Presidential Center is a benefit. We are going to be integrating benefits into our contracts, our policies and the foundation and center. We think that’s the broadest way to tackle the complex issue of economic development.”

Ny’Aylah Davis, 11, is a resident of Englewood and student at Westcott Elementary School, 409 W. 80th St. She dreams of becoming a doctor.

The OPC, specifically the library, she said will introduce her to books that are not available in her neighborhood.

“I think it is good that [former president Barack] Obama is giving us an opportunity to have this library,” Davis said. “We need it. Kids my age can have a library card and harder books to read. It’s hard these days to find a library nearby.”

When Obama released the concept plans for the OPC, he suggested that his presidential library becomes a branch of the Chicago Public Library.

The Obama Foundation hopes to present its plan to the planning commission this fall.

Many at the meeting expressed dissatisfaction with the golf course upgrades.

The design for golf course renovations calls for cutting off a portion of the nature sanctuary and removing the basketball courts, tennis courts, and a soccer field.

Margaret Schmid, coordinator with Jackson Park Watch, said in a previous article in the Herald, that the group initially supported the idea of improving the golf course but their stance changed due to the designs that are being proposed.

Schmid shared concerns on Tuesday about the timeline for approval from the city on the project for renovating the golf courses.

Schmid said she is currently taking a look at what regulatory requirements are in place and how the process could be slowed down so that the community has more input on the process.

There was a discussion amongst members of the audience on whether or not they could place a referendum on the November 2018 ballot to get feedback from the community on south side development.

Tiger Woods, a career professional golf player, will be overseeing the renovations for the new $30 million golf complex.

The courses will be transformed and combined into a single 18-hole championship course and a shorter course.

Woods’ TGR Design will revamp the two courses to host premium Professional Golfers Association (PGA) tour events such as the BMW Championship.

Kalven said Tuesday’s meeting was the first in a series of meetings that the Experimental Station will host regarding south side development.